Local News

NC celebrates Vietnam veterans

Posted March 31, 2012 3:01 p.m. EDT
Updated March 31, 2012 11:50 p.m. EDT

— The state that sent hundreds of thousands of soldiers, Marines, airmen and sailors to fight in Vietnam in the 1960s and 70s hosted a gala welcome home celebration of their service Saturday.

More than 65,000 Vietnam veterans, their families and friends enjoyed music, speeches and patriotic salutes and were able to connect with their fellows and veterans' service agencies at the day-long event at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Gates opened at 9 a.m. for free, general admission, and thousands enjoyed an early spring day at the track. Entertainment included The Charlie Daniels Band, The Oak Ridge Boys and the 82nd Airborne Division "All American Chorus." 

The main attraction was a replica of the Vietnam memorial wall listing the names of those were killed in the war. "I saw names of friends of mine that were taken from us during that time," said Roy Bell, who made the drive from Raleigh for the day. "It's a little emotional, a little emotional."

Saturday's homecoming celebration follows the 10-day Heroes Homecoming held in Fayetteville last November.

Both served to honor veterans who came home to less than a heroes welcome after serving in a controversial conflict. 

"The names that they called you were unbelievable," Jim Akers said. "Baby killers –that's the one that sticks out in my mind." Akers, from Mount Airy, served 10 months in Vietnam.

Saturday was a whole different experience. 

"I never thought I'd see this happen," he said. "I thought it was something that would get swept under the rug and forgotten about."

Bell, too, said the celebration was an important milestone for the men and women who served more than three decades ago. "It gives us some type of relief (from) all the anger and frustration we brought back with us," he said.

The USO of North Carolina and the North Carolina Association of Broadcasters were sponsors of the event.